Telling Tales

I have followed Syp’s Master of Orion nostalgia game with great interest. And not just because he named the planets (and ships) after other bloggers. He is telling a great story of a space empire and its successes and failures, and it is a lot of fun to read along. Syp nods to Casual Aggro’s bold and true statement that making stories is why we play.

One quote in particular from the post caught my eye and had me nodding emphatically:

“I know it’s boring to say this, but the most fun I have with 4X games is when I’m roflstomping over the enemy with ease, not when I’m scrabbling just to stay afloat against an enemy that I have a 2-1 planetary advantage over.”

The eternal frustration I have had with 4x games (which I love), is that ultimately, the AI is programmed to do nothing but kick the snot out of you at every opportunity. If you are at war, they are out to kill you. If you have peace, they are doing whatever they can behind the scenes to kill you. The AI doesn’t want to tell stories, it wants to win.

So I have over the years, found ways to mitigate this. Fewer AI opponents, of lesser skill levels. When the game has AI strat options, I generally pick “turtle” or “defensive” or its equivalent. But these are mostly bandaids and ultimately unsatisfying.

There is not much else to say or do on the subject I suppose. The 4X heyday has come and gone, and nobody saw fit to innovate games in this direction. I had a great PBEM game (using a modified Fudge system) and have tried to get something similar rolling myself (it failed, no takers). But it devolved into the same problem – every leader of every country (well, almost) wanted to change the map and conquer the world. And that is fun for a season, but its not fun all the time and every turn.

Am I missing something? Is there a game out there that does this better than others? Clearly from the other posts I’m not the only one that feels this way, but three people is an awfully small sample size.

When I fire up a 4x game, I want it to last for a year in real time and a thousand years of game time. I want to develop cities and explore continents as much as I want to build armies. I want famine and plagues and omens as much as I want bloodthirsty barbarian hordes (AI or person controlled either one). For as many 4x strat games as there are on the market over the years, I really want – well, more. Not more games, but one or two games that *do* more with the genre. That are built from the ground up, not for 4x, but for 1x – telling that epic tale.

And while I am here, let me promote (not for the first time I don’t think) my favorite 4x of all time, Dominions 3. If you are a 4x fan, you owe it to yourself to try the demo. And then to buy the game itself, because between the great game, the outstanding community updates and mods, its a world of fun. The game was released nearly seven years ago, and its still going strong. Though if the graphics throw you off, Dominions 4 (which seams to be little more than incorporating the 29(!) updates to Dom3 and bringing the graphics a bit more up to speed, is due to be released in less than a month.

How about you all? Any other good 4x games, or games to tell a story, that you know of?

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8 thoughts on “Telling Tales

  1. When I first saw it on Massively, I REALLY liked the concept behind Civilization Online. Instead of a player controlling a civilization, the players were just citizens of the civilization. You worked, expanded to other cities, became part of the military, studied research, etc. against other players doing the exact same thing for THEIR civilization. I’m not a huge fan of sandboxes, but it sounded Fascinating.

    Maybe also A Tale In The Desert? Another MMO, sure, and one that is different to an extreme, but the game is about nothing but community story-building.

    For non-MMOs… I guess The Sims would qualify, though I doubt the stories you can create would be defined as “epic”. I don’t know… but I don’t know of any good 4x games that are more in-depth like that. Maybe the limitation is on the 4x genre itself.

    1. I think that’s my conclusion too. 4x itself refers to means of victory, so that’s already headed in the wrong direction in a sense. For some odd reason, I didn’t have you linked on the front page. Fixed.

  2. Dom3 came out at the end of 2006, so its about time! (-: I bought it back when it was still $55. Now that its down to $30 thought if I were jumping in I’d just go with 4 since its the same price either way.

  3. TBH, I don’t recall much about it, other than that processing a turn would kill my computer once I got into the late game and larger armies were being bandied about. And blood magic was wickedly OP once you figured out how to use it . . . .

  4. Pingback: Master of Orion: Out with a bang | Bio Break

  5. Probably the closest that approaches this is the Paradox Interactive series of games, though naturally “exploration” is really limited to the EU-game era and is only on Earth (well, until modders get involved). The AI actually has priorities other than “conquer everything”.

    1. That’s a good point, I didn’t think about those, perhaps because of their historical perspective. But yeah, one of the fun things about EU and HoI is taking a minor country and seeing what you can do and where you can take them – rewriting the narrative of history.

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